Over the recent Christmas break, I returned to my childhood home in the Chicago suburbs. My parents, being consummate empty nesters, have been going through some of their oldest of possessions and throwing stuff away, which includes books and other media from well before I was born. There, in the childhood basement where I wiled away most of my time, is where I found it in a box of refuse: The New Magic of Microwave Cookbook.
Me being a cynical jerk, I immediately saw a plumb opportunity to explore the weirdness within and poke fun at some of the more bizarre or humorous examples, much in the same manner as former Paste food editor Sara Bir, who did the same thing several times to hilarious effect. I’m afraid I didn’t find any “blueberry boy bait,” as she did, but I still did pretty well.
This particular cookbook seems to capture a bizarre moment in America, and one that most people under 30 would undoubtedly have a difficult time picturing today: The ascendancy of the microwave. As satirized in American Hustle with Jennifer Lawrence’s “science oven” in particular, there was a time in the late ‘70s when commercial microwaves were just entering American households, and the “atomic age” technology no doubt seemed amazing. Indeed, The New Magic of Microwave Cookbook was published in 1978, the same year as the events of American Hustle. In a way, you could call the promise of the microwave a metaphor for the entire film, and space-age technology in general: It promises the possibility of ease and comfort, but in reality you just end up with a rubbery hunk of gray, gristly meat. Such it is with life.
So let’s kick back and re-enter an age when we thought that radiation would solve all of life’s cooking problems.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer who occasionally snarks about food. You can follow him on Twitter.